The knuckleball, I know, is a big part of the story. It’s a
big part of who I am. But I’ve never really thought of myself as
being different, not really, not in comparison to other pitchers
and certainly not in comparison to the people who come watch us
What I am, I believe, is someone who got a bunch of second chances
and took advantage of them, who persevered through adversity. I hope
that comes through as much as anything else in this book. I think there
are lessons in that for all of us. I know there were for me.
People look at the knuckleball differently than they do other
pitches — they’re fascinated by it. I understand why. People have asked
me all kinds of questions about the knuckleball over the years — how
I grip it, why it does what it does, whether I ever get frustrated by it.
That last question is one I’ve always found interesting, because people
sometimes talk about it as if it were a person, as if I had a relationship
with it. No one would ever ask Pedro Martinez about his changeup or
Josh Beckett about his curveball the same way they ask me about my
knuckleball, but I also understand there are differences. If one pitch
isn’t working for those guys, they can try something else. I really can’t.
For roughly 20 years as a professional pitcher, I’ve thrown the knuckleball
on almost every pitch. It’s worked for me most of the time. When
it hasn’t, I’ve simply chalked it up to the balancing forces of baseball,
the way any pitcher would.
I don’t resent the knuckleball. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I love
the knuckleball. It has given me a long career to be proud of and provided
for my wife, Stacy, and two children, Trevor and Brianna. It’s
allowed me to meet people I might never have met, experience things
I might never have been able to experience, and help people in ways I
might never have been able to help.
Before I joined the Red Sox in 1995, I thought my career might be
over. I was still learning about the knuckleball, and I knew almost
nothing about Boston or about the Red Sox other than what I had
learned from one of my college roommates, Tom Krystock, who was a
Red Sox fan. Tom was from Connecticut and convinced me to go with
him to Fenway Park, where we took in a handful of games. I never
imagined then that Boston and Fenway would become my home,
that I would pitch in nearly 300 games there and be part of two world
championship teams. And I never imagined that Boston would accept
me the way it has, that the people there would welcome me as part
of their community, that Boston would be as much a home to me as
Melbourne, Florida, where I grew up and played college baseball.
Sometime during my career in Boston — I can’t remember exactly
when — someone asked one of my teammates, Derek Lowe, about
what it was like to pitch at Fenway Park. What made Fenway different?
Derek told them that when he pitched in other, bigger stadiums,
he would look into the stands and see colors. But at Fenway, when he
stood on the mound, he would look into the crowd and see faces. I always
thought that was a great way to describe how special it is to pitch
at Fenway Park, for the Red Sox and for their fans. The experience
is just more intimate. To me, Boston always has felt like a neighborhood
more than a city, the kind of place, like Cheers, where everybody
knows your name and you know theirs. It’s one of the things I love
most about playing there. People talk about “Red Sox Nation” all the
time now, but it really is true. To me, the Red Sox and their fans are
a community unlike any other in sports, and I’ve been blessed to be a
part of it. I’ve invested in Boston during my time there, and I feel like
Boston has invested in me.
In that way, especially, I’ve been very fortunate. Over the course of
baseball history, other knuckleballers have had their own communities
too. Hoyt Wilhelm. Phil and Joe Niekro. Wilbur Wood. Charlie
Hough and Tom Candiotti. The list goes on. I’ve had the chance to
meet most of those guys and to talk to them about the knuckler, to
share an experience that has made us some of the most unique pitchers
in baseball history. The knuckleball has taken us all through some
unpredictable dips and turns, but we all owe everything we’ve accomplished
to a pitch that, to me, is unlike any other in baseball.
I hope this book gives you some idea as to what it has been like to
live with the knuckleball for the last 20 years or so.
And I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I have.
He’s so consistent with a pitch that’s not consistent. You look
up in the sixth or seventh inning and he’s got a chance to win.
—Red Sox manager Terry Francona speaking
about Tim Wakefield, March 2010
On June 8, 2010, with one out in the seventh inning of
his 538th career appearance with the Boston Red Sox, Tim
Wakefield familiarly stood on the pitcher’s mound, glove
resting near his lefthip, right arm comfortably hanging at his side, as
he peered in toward home plate. He was already behind in the count,
two balls and no strikes. As Indians slugger Russell Branyan settled into
the batter’s box at Progressive Field in downtown Cleveland, Wakefield
eased back and spun on his right foot, reaching into his glove for the
pitch that would soon make him the all-time innings leader in Red
Sox history, an achievement far more commendable than most anyone
would care to acknowledge.
A knuckleball? No, no, no — not in this case — and perhaps there is
a good measure of irony in that. In recording the 8,329th out of his 16-
year Red Sox career — more outs than any other pitcher in the history
of a storied franchise — Wakefield threw a fastball clocked at 73 miles
per hour, inducing a pop-up that safely landed in the glove of teammate
and shortstop Marco Scutaro. That was it. That was the instant when
Wakefield reached precisely 2,776⅓ innings, literally a fraction more
than the 2,776 recorded by longtime Red Sox ace Roger Clemens, adding further accomplishment to a workmanlike career during which his
most significant contributions had often been disguised and one in
which he had negotiated and endured the whims, eccentricities, and
unpredictable dips and turns of baseball’s most maddening, mystifying,
and unpredictable pitch.
Even against Branyan, after all, Wakefield had to work around the
knuckleball as much as he relied on it, resorting to his oxymoronic
fastball, which barely qualified for a speeding ticket, to record the out
that distinguished him from every other pitcher who had worn the
Boston uniform — from Clemens to Cy Young to Curt Schilling, Pedro
Martinez, Babe Ruth, and beyond.
“He’s a very unassuming guy, but he’s been the glue that’s held that
pitching stafftogether for a long time. That’s a fact,” said former Red
Sox general manager Dan Duquette, who brought Wakefield to Boston
in 1995, when the pitcher’s career seemed to be in ruins. “He’s the consummate
organization man. He was always available to the team. He
made a huge contribution to the team and to the community.”
For Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who inherited Wakefield
upon taking over the Red Sox GM ...